The world of finance is full of traps, but also opportunities.
The best practices for personal financial planning leave you in a better position to get through hardships. They also ensure you have a more comfortable future, particularly in retirement.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind for personal finance management.
Some people pride themselves on never borrowing any money, even by using a credit card.
That’s fine if paying in cash all the time works for you. But if you can even foresee yourself buying a car that isn’t 10+ years old, not to mention a home, avoiding debt like the plague will set you up for a nasty surprise.
The fact of the matter is that you need to take on some kinds of debt to establish your credit history. That can mean using a credit card plus taking very small, safe loans here and there. One good example is setting a strict personal limit while using a cashback rewards credit card. That way, if you don’t miss any payments…
Get a mortgage.
Get an auto loan.
Start a business.
Annual percentage rates (APRs) are the main marker for the cost of taking a loan.
High APRs mean your loan is more expensive, and thus normally harder to pay back.
If you decide to take a loan, particularly from alternative lenders, you need to pay close attention to costs. All lenders must state an APR before you sign off on a loan arrangement.
When you’re choosing an insurance policy, it makes sense to compare costs. However, it’s normal to end up considering whether you really need the full scope of the coverage you purchased.
What your exact insurance needs are can only be determined by you. For example, if you live somewhere prone to hurricanes, insurance policies should cover the damage they can cause. However, issues like flooding and fires can affect homes everywhere.
The one time you certainly won’t regret paying too much for insurance is the time you actually need it. So, it’s not bad to be a bit overzealous and make sure your insurance policies, for your home, health, vehicles, and otherwise, cover all foreseeable and possible damages.
By the same token, your needs should all be covered. As you get older, in particular, your insurance needs will expand. To be adequately insured, you cannot miss out on any of the following:
In some cases, it’s also worth considering:
For most people, purchasing a home is the most significant financial decision of their lifetimes. But the value of a property is only partially under your control.
Home improvements can increase the market value of your home. But factors such as public school quality, neighborhood amenities, access to major routes and transportation also contribute. While those factors are beyond your control, you can do your background research before closing.
Homeowners associations are the subject of many debates.
Some people like the stability they provide, or their ability to maintain higher property values in a neighborhood. Others find them too imposing, as some homeowners associations set strict rules about things you may not consider important.
Before closing, consider the rules and culture of any local homeowners association. You will likely draw your own strong opinions. You may end up writing them off as too lenient or as too strict. Either way, they are important to consider because of the influence they have on your future as a local homeowner.
Much like loans, not paying your tax bill on time will result in penalties and interest charges that can pile up. Left too long, this can quickly spiral out of control.
Hopefully, you’ve never forgone paying taxes on time. If that’s the case, keep it up!
Underpaying on taxes can get you in trouble if you’re audited and it looks like you did so intentionally.
However, most mistakes are forgiven and you simply have to pay the outstanding balance.
One other issue that slips by many people is that not all forms of income are taxable. Income includes any money you received during the tax year, but with some notable exceptions which include:
Look up whether the forms of income you’re including in your taxes are actually taxable. It’s important to note that there are also differences from state to state.
In 2018 alone, the IRS sent $464 billion in refunds for people overpaying their taxes.
From a sales perspective, it’s hard to sell something preventative that no one wants to think about.
Your own death is likely one of the things you want to think about as little as possible. But life insurance is about more than that. If you have anyone depending on you in any capacity, it’s more than worth dealing with now.
The good news is that comprehensive life insurance isn’t always expensive. If you don’t engage in very risky activities, it likely won’t be that high. As a tip, you can consider whole life insurance to make sure your premiums don’t rise as you get older.
This is where you will lay out how your assets should be handled after your death.
Like life insurance, this is something you should consider doing now, regardless of your age.
Your last will covers:
Finance is hard. But understanding the basics of the 5 areas of personal finance can help you no matter what your income is right now. With a few changes, you can make sure you’re getting the most you can out of your personal cash flow.
Editor's note: This article was originally published Dec 20, 2021 and has been updated to improve reader experience.
September 25, 2023
September 23, 2023
September 22, 2023
September 21, 2023